Australian mammals back from the brink

Some of Australia’s most threatened species are to receive added protection thanks to Federal Government funding of over AU$490,000 (over US$270,000), announced by Environment Minister Robert Hill.

The funding is for the Threatened Species Network (TSN) Community Grants Programme, to assist in saving flora and fauna and to reward community groups with the recognition that they deserve, said Hill.

In the 200 years since European occupation, Australia has lost around 87 plant species and 53 animal species, including the Tasmanian tiger, the last of which died in captivity in 1936 on 7 September, now commemorated each year as National Threatened Species Day.

“This year our grants winners received funding for a range of interesting projects including training volunteers to restore the habitat of an endangered community of Thrombolites at Lake Richmond in WA [Western Australia], one of the few places in the world where these ‘living rocks’ grow,” said Hill.

“Other projects include preventing livestock access into the remnant grassland habitat of the Endangered Striped Legless Lizard and working with indigenous communities to protect a population of the Mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial found near Uluru,” Hill added.

In one recent successful project some of the world’s rarest mammals have been brought back to mainland Australia where they have been extinct for over 50 years.

Burrowing Bettongs, Western Barred Bandicoots, and the Greater Stick Nest Rat have been successfully introduced to a refuge area on Heirisson Prong, at Useless Loop, a mining community in the Shark Bay area in Western Australia. The project was carried out by a team volunteers from Useless Loop, the Shark Bay Salt Joint Venture, and Earthwatch, and was lead by scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

“Reintroductions to the mainland have failed in the past due to a combination of predation and unsuitable habitat,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Jeff Short. “On Heirisson Prong we provide them with a safe new home where there are no predators and then try to find ways to encourage the animals not to disperse too widely.”

The project involved the creation of a predator-proof beach-head with a triple-layered defence consisting of a high security captive breeding area, a 12 sq km zone from which all predators have been removed, and a 200 sq km buffer zone in which cats and foxes are trapped and baited.

“A combination of fencing and regular baiting and trapping of predators allows these rare animals to breed and successfully recolonise the area,” said Short. “The return of these animals is turning the tide of extinctions. We have lost eighteen Australian native mammals in the last 200 years, and this project is redressing the balance.”

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